[Federal Register: December 10, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 236)]
[Page 65546-65548]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service
[FWS-R1-ES-2009-N188; 10120-1113-0000-D2]

Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement 
Related to Experimental Removal of Barred Owls for the Conservation 
Benefit of Threatened Northern Spotted Owls

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.


SUMMARY: Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 
this notice advises the public that we, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (USFWS), intend to gather information necessary to prepare an 
environmental impact statement (EIS) for barred owl (Strix varia) 
removal experiments designed to determine if the species' presence is 
affecting northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) population 
stability and growth, and to test the feasibility of removing barred 
owls from specific locations. We furnish this notice to advise other 
agencies and the public of our intentions, and to obtain suggestions 
and information on the scope of issues to include in the EIS.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
January 11, 2010. Interested parties may contact us for more 
information at the addresses and phone numbers listed in ADDRESSES.

ADDRESSES: You may submit information by one of the following methods:
    1. You may mail written comments and information to Paul Henson, 
Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and 
Wildlife Office, 2600 SE. 98th Ave., Ste. 100, Portland, OR 97266.
    2. You may hand-deliver written comments to the above address.
    3. You may send comments by electronic mail (e-mail) to 
BarredOwlEIS@fws.gov. Please see the ``Request for Information'' 
section below for file format and other information about electronic 
    4. You may fax your comments to 503-231-6195.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robin Bown, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE. 98th Ave., Ste. 100, 
Portland, OR 97266; telephone, 503-231-6179; facsimile, 503-231-6195.



    We listed the northern spotted owl as threatened in June 1990 under 
the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.), based primarily on the loss and degradation of suitable habitat 
by human activity and natural events (55 FR 26114). Conservation 
efforts for the northern spotted owl since the species' listing have 
focused mainly on securing forest habitat with characteristics 
essential for its survival and conservation. The 1989 Status Review 
Supplement for the northern spotted owl indicated that the long-term 
impact of the expansion of the barred owl into the range of the spotted 
owl was unknown, but of concern (USFWS 1989, p. 3.15). This assessment 
was mirrored in the listing rule for the northern spotted owl, which 
noted that the long-term impact of barred owls on the spotted owl was 
unknown but of considerable concern (55 FR 26114, p. 26190). However, 
the best available information now suggests that competition from 
barred owls poses a significant threat to the northern spotted owl, 
because barred owls have continued to expand and saturate their range 
throughout the listed range of the northern spotted owl. Therefore, 
securing habitat alone may not result in the recovery of the northern 
spotted owl.
    In the past century barred owls have expanded their range westward, 
reaching the range of the northern spotted owl in British Columbia by 
about 1959. Barred owl populations have continued to expand southward 
within the range of the northern spotted owl, and were first documented 
in that portion of Washington in 1973, Oregon in 1972, and California 
in 1976 (Livezey et al. 2007, p. 49; Sharp 1989, p. 179). The 
population of barred owls behind the expansion front continues to 
increase, and they now outnumber spotted owls in many of the northern 
portions of the northern spotted owl's range (Pearson and Livezey 2003, 
p. 272).
    Competition and predation from barred owls may cause direct and 
indirect negative effects to the northern spotted owl. This threat 
could result in extirpation of the northern spotted owl from a 
substantial portion of its historical range and severely reduce the 
likelihood of its recovery, even if other known negative effects are 
    Potential direct negative effects include declines in site 
occupancy by northern spotted owls resulting from their exclusion from 
high-quality habitat by barred owls. This exclusion drives

[[Page 65547]]

northern spotted owls from forests that contain characteristics 
necessary for breeding, feeding, and sheltering, reducing the potential 
for northern spotted owl survival and reproduction and contributing to 
a declining population. In addition, barred owls may physically attack 
spotted owls during interactions between individuals (Gutierrez et al. 
2007, p. 187). These effects may help explain declines in northern 
spotted owl territory occupancy associated with barred owls in Oregon, 
where they are recent invaders, and reduced northern spotted owl 
survivorship and sharper population declines in Washington, where 
barred owls have been present the longest and in the greatest densities 
(Anthony et al. 2006, pp. 21, 30, 32).
    Indirect effects may also occur if the presence of barred owls 
suppresses the response of northern spotted owls to surveys conducted 
prior to forest management activities. In some situations, the presence 
of northern spotted owls detected during pre-project surveys results in 
changes to management activities, thus protecting habitat and northern 
spotted owls. Current research shows a suppression effect in northern 
spotted owl responses to surveys when barred owls are present, which 
could cause many northern spotted owls to go undetected (Crozier et al. 
2006, p. 767). Thus, occupied habitat could end up being modified or 
destroyed, thereby reducing site occupancy, survival, and reproduction 
of northern spotted owls.
    We are proposing to conduct experiments to determine if the removal 
of barred owls would increase the site occupancy, survival, 
reproduction, and population trends of northern spotted owls. Support 
for these experiments has been expressed in the scientific community, 
as indicated in the following examples. Gutierrez et al. (2007, p. 181) 
stated ``only through carefully designed experiments involving removal 
of barred owls will we be able to determine if recent declines in 
spotted owl populations are caused by barred owls or by other 
factors.'' Gutierrez et al. (2007, p. 191) goes on to state 
``[c]orrectly executed removal experiments should provide an 
unambiguous result regarding the effect of barred owls on spotted owl 
population declines.'' The Wildlife Society sent a letter to the 
Director of the USFWS stating ``experiments to remove and control 
barred owls * * * [are] appropriate'' (The Wildlife Society 2008, p. 
11). Buchanan et al. (2007, p. 683) state ``[d]espite the potential for 
confounding effects, appropriately designed removal experiments should 
provide the strongest inference regarding the magnitude of the Barred 
Owl's effect on Spotted Owls.''
    The methods for, and effects of, removing barred owls from northern 
spotted owl habitat are not fully understood. Two publications provide 
discussion and analysis of various methods of barred owl control: ``A 
synopsis of suggested approaches to address potential competitive 
interaction between Barred Owls (Strix varia) and Spotted Owls (Strix 
occidentalis)'' (Buchanan et al. 2007) and ``Considering control of 
invasive barred owls to benefit California spotted owls: possible 
justification and draft methods,'' in Managing Vertebrate Invasive 
Species: Proceedings of an International Symposium (Livezey et al. 
2007). The USFWS will consider the information in these documents in 
developing any experimental design for barred owl removal.
    The experimental design for removal studies would likely consider 
multiple experimental sites and a paired sample design, including 
treatment areas where barred owls are removed and appropriate control 
areas where they are not. Experimental sites would likely include 1 or 
more of the 14 demographic study areas where existing, long-term 
studies of northern spotted owl population dynamics have been under way 
for nearly two decades (Anthony et al. 2006). This would allow us to 
compare northern spotted owl population data before and after 
experimental barred owl removal. Paired samples (i.e., treatment and 
control areas) allow us to evaluate and address natural variation that 
might otherwise obscure the results potentially requiring longer or 
more extensive experiments to detect meaningful changes. Barred owl 
removal could involve lethal methods (killing), nonlethal methods 
(capture and relocation), or a combination of these, all of which will 
be considered in the NEPA process. Implementation of the experiments 
would likely occur over a period of approximately 3 to 10 years, 
beginning in 2010 or later and would require a permit under the 
Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 704).

Environmental Review of this Proposal

    Prior to conducting this research, we will review the likely 
environmental effects and document the information in an EIS. A first 
step in preparing an EIS is to clearly identify the purpose(s) and 
need(s) for the proposed action. Our proposed research has the 
following three purposes:
    (1) To contribute to fulfilling the intent of the ESA so 
ultimately, the protections afforded by the ESA are no longer necessary 
and the northern spotted owl may be removed from the list of threatened 
and endangered species;
    (2) To obtain information regarding the effects of barred owls on 
northern spotted owl vital rates of occupancy, survival, reproduction, 
and population trend through experimental removal; and
    (3) To determine the feasibility of removal of barred owls.
    The need for the proposed research is to:
    (1) Evaluate the response of northern spotted owl occupancy, 
survival, reproduction, and population trend to barred owl removal;
    (2) Determine if barred owls can be effectively removed from an 
area and how much follow-up effort is required to maintain low 
population levels of barred owls; and
    (3) Determine the cost of removal in different types of landscapes.
    We will analyze a full range of reasonable alternatives meeting the 
purpose and need and the associated impacts of each. Potential 
alternatives considered to date for analysis in the EIS include, but 
are not limited to: (1) No experimental removal of barred owls, the No 
Action Alternative; (2) lethal experimental removal of barred owls; and 
(3) nonlethal experimental removal of barred owls, through relocation 
or captivity.
    The environmental review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of NEPA, the National Environmental 
Policy Act Regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508), other appropriate Federal 
laws and regulations, and policies and procedures of the USFWS for 
compliance with those laws and regulations.

Request for Information

    Comments and suggestions are invited from all interested parties to 
ensure consideration of a full range of alternatives related to the 
purpose and need and identification of all significant issues. We 
request that comments be as specific as possible in regard to the 
above-mentioned purposes and needs. We also request that comments 
include information, issues, and concerns regarding:
    (1) The direct, indirect, and cumulative effects that 
implementation of one of the listed alternatives could have on 
endangered and threatened species and their habitats;
    (2) Other possible alternatives and their associated effects;
    (3) Potential adaptive management or monitoring provisions;

[[Page 65548]]

    (4) Baseline environmental conditions within the range of the 
northern spotted owl;
    (5) Other plans or projects that might be relevant to this project;
    (6) Measures that would minimize and mitigate potentially adverse 
effects of the proposed project;
    (7) Considerations for the ethical and humane treatment of barred 
owls removed during the experiments; and
    (8) Any other information pertinent to evaluating the effects of 
this project on the human environment.
    The environmental review will analyze and document the effects the 
considered alternatives would have on barred owls and northern spotted 
owls, as well as other components of the human environment, including 
but not limited to cultural resources, social resources (including 
public safety), economic resources, and environmental justice.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this proposal by any one of several methods (see ADDRESSES). 
Please submit e-mail comments to BarredOwlEIS@fws.gov. Please also 
include ``Attn: Barred Owl EIS'' in your e-mail subject header and your 
name and return address in the body of your message. If you do not 
receive a confirmation from the system that we have received your e-
mail message, contact us directly by calling our Oregon Fish and 
Wildlife Office at phone number 503-231-6179. Please note that the e-
mail address will be closed at the end of the public comment period.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so. Comments and materials we receive will be available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES).

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request from our Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER 

    Dated: December 3, 2009.
David Wesley,
Deputy Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 1, 
Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. E9-29447 Filed 12-9-09; 8:45 am]